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Long: As playoffs approach, Saints looking out of sorts

Robert Meachem (Getty Images)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem (17) walks off the field following the Saints'...
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Howie Long

Howie Long is an NFL Hall of Famer and Emmy-Award winning analyst on the "FOX NFL Sunday" pregame show. He earned eight Pro Bowl berths in his 13-year career with the Oakland Raiders, helping lead them to a victory in Super Bowl XVIII, before joining FOX Sports in 1994.

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Since looking unstoppable against the Patriots, the Saints were taken into overtime in Washington and got lucky against Atlanta after a failed fake field goal when Jonathan Vilma came up with a huge stop on fourth down to save the day.

The Dallas loss in prime time was tough to take, but the Saints fought hard and the Cowboys came with their finest effort of the season. That was an understandable loss that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten.

But this loss today to the two-win Bucs might put the home-field advantage in jeopardy for the Saints. This team's playoff status is at risk, and now they must travel to Carolina — which has a red-hot running game right now — and win to secure home field throughout the playoffs.

It is interesting to me that since Sean Payton has limited the access to the team the Saints appear to be out of sync. What's the harm in giving postgame interviews?

Four weeks ago, I thought there was only one team that had a shot of beating New Orleans in New Orleans, and that was Minnesota. Now, with both the Saints and Vikings struggling, you can make a case that Philadelphia and Dallas might be the best teams in the NFC. My, how things have changed over the last few weeks; the whole playoff picture has changed.

I tell you it won't be easy for the Saints to travel to Carolina on Sunday. The Panthers just pounded the Giants and are playing great defense right now. Plus, the Saints are really struggling to stop the run. Stay tuned, folks.

Can't figure Giants' loss



The Giants' game was shocking to me. The Giants had everything to play for; they had a playoff berth on the line. It was the last game in Giants Stadium, home of three Super Bowl champions.

But the Giants surrendered 247 yards on the ground. And the Panthers' best running back, DeAngelo Williams, wasn't even in the lineup. As a former defensive lineman, I can tell you that's the most embarrassing way to lose. It was a total breakdown by the defense. And then the offense couldn't get in gear early. That was a mindboggling loss.

You had to see Tom Coughlin when the game was over. I don't even think he understood how it happened. Where was the effort? The Giants opened the season 5-0 and were one of the favorites to win the East, and now they will have the whole offseason to wonder what happened.

Give it away now



Baltimore just gave that game away in Pittsburgh. Derrick Mason dropped a sure touchdown pass. But all their penalties — and there were a bunch of them (11 for 113 yards) — took away two other touchdowns. And some of those penalties were just dumb.

In a game that could have secured a playoff spot, the Ravens committed too many costly turnovers, and their pass protection hurt them, particularly at the end of the game. Joe Flacco played well at times, but for the most part he struggled against Dick LeBeau's defense. Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley had two big defensive plays at the end that helped pushed Baltimore to the edge.

The Steelers are living well right now. They've had two nice wins back-to-back on some great play at the end of the game, but they didn't really win this one. Baltimore gave them this game by not being disciplined. If the Ravens don't make the playoffs, this game will haunt them.

Light goes on for Moss



When the light is on, Patriots receiver Randy Moss is still a scary player. He had three touchdown catches today against the Jaguars, which gives him four overall since that controversial game against the Panthers. Moss leads the Patriots with 13 touchdowns. It was good to see him and Tom Brady laughing together on the sideline when a couple of weeks ago the scene was totally different.

The Patriots are back to running the ball over the past couple of games, and that's a good thing. The run game allows Brady, who is obviously dinged and hurting, to take fewer hits in the pocket.

Sammy Morris was great today with 95 yards rushing on 12 carries, and the Patriots will be getting Fred Taylor back soon and that means they will be a tough team to beat in the playoffs.

Rodgers living up to hopes



The Packers reached 10 wins Sunday, totally whipping Seattle in every facet of the game. But I came away totally impressed with Aaron Rodgers, who is looking every bit the part of a franchise quarterback. He's everything that coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson thought he would be when they made the decision to move on without Brett Favre.

But the best news for the Packers is they are getting their running game on track at the right time. Ryan Grant scored twice and missed 100 yards by only 3. He has become a force, plus they showcased Brandon Jackson, who had three touchdowns, one on a reception.

The defense was burned by Ben Roethlisberger last week, but it is very complex and unorthodox and it presents problems for most offenses. It can attack from all sorts of angles and edges. The Packers are one of the youngest teams in the league and once again receiver Greg Jennings is showing he's a rising star, and I believe tight end Jermichael Finley is a great option.

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